Wednesday, November 30, 2011

not your average christmas cookie

I love the idea of gifting homemade cookies for the holidays. I mean, cookies really do make the world a better place. But if I have to eat one more sugar cookie covered in royal icing and sprinkles...

Well, to be honest, if you baked me sugar cookies I'd be so appreciative and I'd probably gobble them right up. But there's so many other - better - options out there. Let's get creative people.

(sugar cookie sandwiches via a fabulous fete)

I'll start you off easy. This version uses sugar cookies, frosting, and sprinkles BUT look how they're adorably sandwiched. And they're presented so fabulously in that tray. Imagine using red/green sprinkles or gold/silver sprinkles?! You'd win my heart forever. 

(chocolate dipped madeleines via hello lisanne)

Madeleines are so dainty and pretty. They're more of a small cake bite than a true cookie. You could do no wrong with a beautifully wrapped box of these and a small bag of fresh Stumptown coffee beans. Can you imagine dipping these beauties in a mug of coffee while watching some old holiday movies? Yes, yes I can.

(fleur de sel caramel macarons via honey and soy)

I don't know if there's a truer sign of love and friendship than making someone homemade macarons. If it were me, I would carefully set these lovelies in a shoe box (lined with parchment paper, of course), wrap it in some kraft paper, and tie it up with red and white bakers twine. For your friends and family who truly love the macaron, maybe buy them this book as well. 

(peanut butter bacon blondies via how sweet eats)

Am I stretching the cookie concept with these blondies? It's totally worth it. There's bacon! (Yeah, you just got a little excited, didn't you?!) These are perfect for those friends who claim they prefer savory over sweet or just for anyone who loves a bit of bacon in their lives (like me!). These would look pretty awesome sitting on a platter wrapped in clear cellophane. You could go the extra mile and tie a few mini Mo's Bacon Chocolate Bars within the ribbon. 

For those of you lacking in the "spare time department" this holiday season, I've got an idea for you too!

(momofuku milk bar compost cookies via lwood15)

You can order deliciously unique cookies from the famous Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. My personal favorites are the corn cookies and the compost cookies (pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips).

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

homemade apple pie

Every year my Mom and I have a big chat before Thanksgiving to figure out who's going to cook each course, what dishes we should make, and what needs to be bought from the store. During our conversation, Josh proclaimed that this year he would be in charge of dessert, and he would be baking a homemade apple pie. I was thrilled - making a homemade latticed apple pie was on my cooking bucket list.

The pie turned out to be fairly straightforward to make. There was quite a few steps and it took a couple of hours (plus some overnight dough chilling time). But we were enjoying some Thanksgiving football and cold beers, so the time really flew by. Plus, there's nothing more all-American and home-y than a freshly baked apple. This may be an annual Thanksgiving tradition.

And when you have leftovers, you can top them with homemade salted caramel ice cream (we added an extra tablespoon of salt to the recipe) and eat them straight out of the pie dish while standing barefoot in your kitchen. 

We followed Thomas Keller's pie crust recipe and then sort of "went with the flow" for the filling recipe (i.e. we made it up as we went along). We filled the uncooked pie crust with the filling and then cut the remaining rolled out pie dough into 1/2 inch strips. We followed this tutorial on creating a pie lattice. 

Apple Pie Filling
makes 1 pie
8 pound of granny smith apples
1 stick butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

Peel, core, and slice apples. Saute in a pan over medium heat with 1 stick of butter until apples are slightly softened (but still retain a bite), approximately 10 minutes. Add sugar, lemon juice, flour, and salt. Mix together. The filling should be thick and cling to the apples. If the filling is too thin, add more flour by the tablespoon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

meatless monday: french onion soup and pomegranate avocado salad

Oh, how I love Thanksgiving. The potatoes. The cranberry sauce. The stuffing. I dream about stuffing. 

I got my full (and then some) this past weekend. I practically rolled away from the dinner table. I need a few soup and salad evenings for the next week to get myself on track.

We made this the night after Thanksgiving. We spent most of Thursday on our feet in the kitchen, so we weren't in the mood for a big night of cooking. 

We took a box of Trader Joe's frozen french onion soup and defrosted it on the stove. Then we spooned it into some soup crocks and topped it with stuffing. (It was the perfect use of Thanksgiving leftovers!) And then we sprinkled on a healthy helping of shredded mozzarella cheese because it wouldn't truly be french onion soup without cheese.

For a healthy, fresh side we mixed together a mache, avocado, and pomegranate salad. Bitter greens with creamy avocado and tangy pomegranate - this could be my new go to salad.

French Onion Soup
serves 2
1 box frozen TJs French Onion Soup
1/2 cup leftover stuffing (or 2 sliches brioche or challah would work)
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Turn oven on broil. Defrost soup over medium heat in a soup pot. When completely defrosted, spoon the soup into two oven-safe bowls. Top each bowl with 1/4 cup of stuffing, 1/4 cup shredded cheese, and freshly ground pepper. Place bowls under the broiler for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden. 

Mache, Avocado, Pomegranate Salad
serves 2
2 cups mache
1/2 avocado
1 cup pea shoots
1/4 cup pomegranate
1/4 cup dry roasted pistachios
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon high quality vinegar
Salt, Pepper

Mix together all salad ingredients. Top with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss so that all ingredients are covered with the dressing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

what we're thankful for

The Top Ten Things We're Thank For
...a los angeles edible/drinkable version...

10. Shaved Snow at Class 302

9. Punch Bowl at A Frame

8. Jungle Curry at Jitlada

(image via rock my palate)

7. Butterscotch Budino at the Mozzas

6. Eggs Benedict at Tavern

(image via estarla)

5. Red Hook Cocktail at The Varnish

(image via cocktailia)

4. Godmother Sandwich at Bay Cities Delis

(image via potatomato)

3. Belgian Cut Fries at Wurstkuche

(image via the delicious life)

2. Grilled Cheese and Beer Night at Andrew's Cheese Shop

(image via food gps)

1. Mendocino Farms Anything (save drakes salad and pork belly banh mi rank high up there)

(image via taste terminal)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

dinner at michael voltaggio's ink

As a birthday surprise, Josh booked a reservation at Michael Voltaggio's new restaurant Ink. I'm an avid Top Chef viewer and a huge fan of Season 6, especially. He checked their website every day for weeks until he scored one. Worth it.

The restaurant was simple and clean in decor with its dark woods and industrial metals. The tables are almost barren (no candles or flowers here) and servers bring you over plates and silverware as needed for your courses. There's an open-air kitchen, omakase bar (not yet in use), and a beautiful bar with shelves and shelves of top-notch and unique bottles of alcohol.

We arrived to our reservation early and headed to the bar. The first thing we noticed were how genuinely nice the staff were. It's pretty common to experience an air of - how do I put this - snootiness at constantly booked up restaurants. Not here. (Cue giant sigh of release.) The hostess was sweet and enthusiastic, the bartenders were chatty and engaging, and our server was hilarious.

(tequila: serrano, lime, grapefruit, soda; campari: gin, cardamaro, orange)

Our drinks were fantastic and kept us very entertained until our table was ready. The Tequila had just enough heat where you could feel it in the back of your throat, but the grapefruit and soda kept it refreshing. The Campari was flavorful with a perfectly measured bitter undertone. Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture until our drinks were finished. Empty glasses = happy drinkers.

(bigeye tuna, parsnip sesame cream, grapefruit, soy gel)

This is the dish for all you sweet and salty lovers out there. See those black gel ball things? Yep, that's soy sauce - Michael Voltaggio style. They're insanely salty on their own, but mixed with those citrusy sweet grapefruit sections - utter perfection. Let's not forget the main attraction: the bigeye tuna was a wonderful, luscious texture. When paired with the vegetal sesame cream and crunchy, bitter croutons, the dish all came together for a bright and exciting first course.

(kale, burrata, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin preserves, yuzu)

This is one of those dishes where you need to get every flavor in each one of your bites. I'm a burrata fanatic, so I thought I would be in love. The dish was great, but I wasn't blown away like I had been with the tartare. One of our neighboring diners mentioned that we needed to scrape down to the bottom of the bowl to get the preserves and yuzu. Theerrree it was. When you got the earthy kale, creamy burrata, crunchy seeds, and sweet and tangy preserves and yuzy together in one bite, the salad was incredible. I just wish I had figured this out before we were almost done.

(beef tartare, horseradish, hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri)

Our second favorite dish of the night. The beef itself was seasoned simply - just with some salt and pepper, if even that. The beef was incredibly chilly (is that a weird comment to make?). I've had numerous carpaccios and tartares, but none this cold. It truly worked for this dish. Especially when you're Michael Voltaggio and can whip out your handy dandy nitrogen tank and throw some frozen horseradish on top. I couldn't get enough. The chimichurri added a giant pop of flavor. I was literally eating the sauce off the plate with my finger. Wow, someone should teach me some table manners. Oh, and those bread crisps? With the little rye seeds in them? Yeah, those were epic. Josh hasn't stopped talking about them.

(veal cheek, red curry, nante carrots baked in salt, fried and sticky rice)

Josh is a curry fanatic so he just about inhaled this dish. The veal was tender and was ever-so-lovely with the sweet and warming flavors of the red curry. My favorite part of the dish was actually the fried and stick rice. It was kind of like rice crispies cereal on crack.

(berkshire pork, charcoal crust, macaroni and cheese, leeks)

Our favorite dish of the night and probably the best pork I've ever eaten out at a restaurant. The meat was perfect cooked - so juicy! - and rubbed in a charcoal crust, which gave it a bit of this bitter, smoky flavor. The leeks brought in this soft and sweet aspect to balance the bitterness out. I'm mildy obsessed with the presentation of the macaroni and cheese. There was one (singular) macaroni stuffed with cheese. I sort of think this idea is genius and will be copying it for a future dinner party.

(apple, creme caramel, burnt wood sabayon, walnut)

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but we somehow got our first dessert before our last entree (see chicken and waffles below). We're easy going people, so we didn't mind. And, you know what? It kind of worked. We had just eaten rich veal and creamy macaroni and cheese. This apple dessert was just light enough to cleanse our palate a bit so we could tackle the chicken and waffles. The dessert was delicious, but it was truly the smells that entranced me. It somehow captured Thanksgiving spices, scotch, and smoky wood barrels all in one. I need a candle in this scent.

(jidori chicken, waffles, smoked maple, hot sauce)

This has to be the restaurant's most popular dish. We saw about 25 fly past us in the 2 hour time span we were there. The chicken is fabulous - cooked sous vide. And then there's this hot sauce. It's vaguely reminiscent of tobasco, but taken up about 1000 notches. When you mix the chicken with the hot sauce, fluffy smoked maple, and the ever-so-slightly-crispy waffle, you're transformed. I'm sort of new to this chicken and waffles game (I know, shame on me). But I see a Roscoes visit in my future.

(peanut butter, milk chocolate, coconut, banana)

If Josh was on a deserted island and could only bring 1 food item, it would be a toss up between a Chipotle burrito and peanut butter. If there's ever a peanut butter dessert on a menu, we order it. And when you add frozen coconut, caramelized bananas, and chocolate - I'm sold. The dessert is decadent in all the right ways. And since most of the items are frozen and creamy, it's the perfect option for an ice cream lover like me.

The dinner ranks up there with the best we've ever had in Los Angeles. The food was incredible and reasonably priced (considering the caliber of the cooking). We bought Michael and Bryan Voltaggio's new cookbook, Volt ink., so we got to walk up to the kitchen and chat with Michael for a few minutes. (Yeah, we're on a first name basis now.) I'm pretty sure I skipped out of the restaurant like a little girl.

Friday, November 18, 2011

a thirtieth birthday party

My friend Ashley threw her boyfriend a thirtieth birthday party this past weekend. She decorated her apartment beautifully - kraft paper runners, mason jars with floating candles, rafia bows at the end of tables, and black plateware. It was festive, but still masculine.

In honor of his thirtieth birthday, she set up a dirty martini bar. She bought beakers from ikea and used chalkboard stickers to label them (vodka, dirty juice, vermouth). And she set out lemon twists and blue cheese stuffed olives.

The food was delicious and sort of in a gastropub theme. There were devilled eggs (the cayenne ones were amazing!), bacon wrapped dates, caprese bites, wasabi peas, and all sorts of sliders (burgers, pulled pork, and meatball).